Why now more than ever
Anyone who’s been in a school building this year can tell you they’ve never seen anything like it. Not the masks and the social distancing. We all know that. I’m referring to the teacher exhaustion. The constant stress of trying to care for their students’ social and emotional needs and making up for lost learning all while managing what we labeled “pervasive unexpected behavior“. And that’s before teachers went home every night to manage their own family’s social and emotional needs and health.
Importance of teacher self-care
Hopefully the holiday has given all our teachers some much deserved time to relax and rejuvenate. But the obvious challenges ahead means that schools should prepare to support and uplift their teachers for the upcoming semester. Quite simply, teachers cannot have the emotional resources to support students if they’re emotionally worn out themselves.
Our top 10 strategies to foster teacher self-care
These are all best practices from the education and mental health communities. Don’t try to do them all, but consider which would be manageable ways to keep teachers energized and supported through the coming months. Ideally these strategies can be used schoolwide but teachers can use them to support one another.
- Show Empathy. Sometimes we all just need to feel understood. Set aside a regular time to check-in with every teacher. Listen, empathize, and problem solve. This isn’t a time for judging or coaching, just supporting.
- Stop and Smile Daily. Never underestimate the healing power of an authentic smile. Whether it’s asking about a loved one, sharing a meme, or telling a good joke, find ways to give the gift of a smile.
- Show Appreciation. Small weekly surprises in the teachers’ room can go a long way. Simple reminders that they are not forgotten nor taken for granted will have outsized rewards.
- Don’t Forget to Ask. In the rush to deal with the changing standards, state mandates, board demands and parental concerns it can be easy to forget to ask teachers what they think about what’s going on. Ask and listen to what teachers have to say first. Their ideas are sure to help and they should never be the “last to know”.
- Institutionalize Mindfulness. There are clear benefits of mindfulness, but it can be hard to afford ourselves the time to do it. Make it a norm at the beginning of the school day. Teachers and students will benefit from a quiet moment of reflection. If schoolwide is too much, consider a moment of mindfulness at staff or planning meanings. There are plenty of resources for incorporating mindfulness and others types of student and teacher self-care. We like this mindfulness blog from American University and the new book from Solutions Tree, The School Wellness Wheel
- Formalize PLCs. No one is meant to do a job alone, but teaching can sometimes be a lonely profession. Professional learning communities give teachers opportunities to collaborate and solve common challenges. Undoubtedly an educational best practice that can also be an emotional best practice.
- Take Things Off the List. This is not a normal year. We all need to deal with the reality that we can’t do everything. Give teachers permission to take things off their to-do lists. This one might be the toughest in a year where you might be under-staffed and there’s an overwhelming feeling that schools need to make up for lost learning. Consider reviewing and prioritizing the curriculum. Allow teachers to go deeper on the important skills and let some of the non-essentials go.
- Stop and Celebrate the Small Stuff. A sunny day. 100% attendance. A week without a COVID case. There are plenty of everyday occurrences we rarely take time to enjoy. Yet those small victories can build the resilience teachers need to persist through the constant challenges. If you missed last month’s blog, consider having teachers write their own gratitude journals.
- Encourage Paying it Forward. Helping someone else is good for the giver and receiver. Small gestures like making someone’s copies or holding an umbrella reminds us that we all need to take a hand sometimes — and how good it feels to give a hand. And if everyone is paying it forward, everyone has the chance to be a giver and receiver.
- Allow Teachers to Take Time for What they Love. Ask teachers what they love to do most and help them find ways to bring it into their classrooms. When we do things we love it’s both emotionally effortless and physically energizing. Let them teach their favorite book or run their favorite experiment, even if it doesn’t quite fit the curriculum. You’ll be amazed how much deeper the learning and engagement will be for everyone.
Our teacher heroes might forget to put themselves first. Without their love, support and commitment, students simply won’t learn. We urge everyone to help those who help our students. And never forget, great minds don’t think (or feel) alike, so don’t assume what someone needs. Just ask them.